You studied sociology at undergrad, and you did your Master’s in Media. How did these prepare you for a career in freelance journalism?
My degrees honed my analytical skills and my focus on international development during my studies increased my awareness about the issues I am reporting about. That said, I have to say the formal degrees didn’t prepare me at all for the business side of freelance journalism — and I am not sure if a degree can prepare you for it at all. It’s fair to say that I became a financially sustainable freelance journalist by trial and error and figuring most things on my own. Being a freelance journalist is basically running a small business.
Remember that you’re a small business and act accordingly. Also, a friendly professionalism goes a really long way.
What tips do you have about pitching and working with commissioning editors?
Familiarize yourself with the type of content they produce and figure out the soft spot of the editors, by reading their previous work or following them on Twitter.
Journalism pitches are essentially are micro business proposals and you’re selling a product to someone. Remember that you’re a small business and act accordingly. Also, a friendly professionalism goes a really long way.
What advice do you have for newsrooms who work regularly with freelancers? What’s the best way to bring out the best in freelancers in the industry?
I’d like them to always remember that a journalist-editor relationship is a two-way exchange. I’ve had the fortune of working with many incredible editors who supported my work and gave thoughtful feedback.
But I’ve also had my fair share of grumpy editors trying to lowball freelancers, demanding the world and offering little in return. So my advice to them is, please treat us like humans and pay us fair rates and on time, seriously. You are not doing us a favor by assigning us a story.
Also, please don’t sit on a story for months on end. Most of us freelancers wouldn’t dream of missing a deadline by three months. So it’s not cool when you give us a deadline, we submit the story timely and don’t hear from you for months.
Are you OK with spending days in a refugee camp in physically challenging conditions for an extra story and then submit it and not even receive a thank you message from an editor?
If someone came up to you seeking advice on whether he or she should get into journalism, what would you say?
Journalism is not an occupation; it’s a calling. So my number one advice to anyone who wants to get into journalism would be to ask, do you really, really want it? Are you willing to embrace a vague future where the labor is intense and the financial rewards are low?
Are you OK with spending days in a refugee camp in physically challenging conditions for an extra story and then submit it and not even receive a thank you message from an editor? How would you cope if you started to receive threats and if there was a realistic chance you could be jailed?
Are you willing to write a click-baity story when the funds are low? Especially if you are a woman of color like myself, will you handle discrimination, bullying and not being taken seriously?
The number one skill that a journalist needs to have isn’t good writing or research skills. It’s zen-master like patience and a skin thick as a rhino. Hence, the second advice I’d give a budding journalist would be to be patient. It takes a lot of time, resilience, cash-flow issues, and hundreds of frustrating rejections to build a respectable journalism portfolio. But hang in there. Everyone has a unique perspective and stories to tell, and if this is really your calling, it’ll probably be worth it in the end.
As a media professional, what concerns you most about the future of the industry?
The era of the “alternative facts” and the polarization of media, with everyone being happy in their choice of media bubble make me quite worried.
I am guilty of this too. I tend to read and work for liberal and progressive media outlets. Sometimes it feels like the work I do is futile, as I feel I am preaching to the converted if I highlight important issues. And I am afraid that the polarization will only get worse.